Since the launch of ‘the Great battle’ to liberate Raqqa city from ISIS on June 6th, United States-backed 'Syrian Democratic Forces' (SDF)—a multi-ethnic force, made up of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and formed in 2015 to combat ISIS—have steadily been advancing into the city. Attacking from multiple directions, SDF pushed into Al-Mashalab district in the East, Division 17 Army base in the North and Sabahiya district in the west within first couple of days of the almost-siege. Clashes ensued between ISIS militants and SDF, increasing in intensity the further forces advanced into the city. By June 16th, SDF had liberated four neighbourhoods, including al-Sahel village in the southwest of Raqqa.
During this time, Syrian Democratic forces had captured a number of weapons caches from ISIS, as well as engaged in clearing out ISIS’ tunnel networks, for example in Sabahiya district and al-Sanaa industrial neighbourhood. These tunnel networks provide hiding places for ISIS militants and allow them to better move around Raqqa.
On June 18th, Coalition fighter jets downed a Syrian regime jet "in self-defence", after it had reportedly bombed Syrian Democratic Forces’ positions in Ja’Din, southwest of Tabqah. This comes as Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) ‘Tiger forces’ advance eastward towards Raqqa. Talal Silo, the SDF spokesperson, stated that, “The Syrian government and its allies are trying to obstruct the liberation of Raqqa…” and that SDF would, “will be forced to retaliate and defend our forces”. Tensions are high, as the Syrian government and its allies are agitated by SDF’s Raqqa campaign, as the SDF is a potential rival in the race to lifting the siege of Deir ez-Zor. In another instance, the anti-ISIS coalition downed an Iranian armed drone over southern Syria.
Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces continued to advance deeper into Raqqa, clashing with ISIS militants around Raqqa’s old city and pushing into al-Qadisiyyah in the west, al-Sinaa in the east and al-Firaj in the South by June 23rd. On June 24th, SDF had nearly encircled Raqqa city completely. However, clashes only increased, as SDF have to deal with both ISIS militant attacks and fleeing civilians. Coalition planes provide air support and artillery provides cover for advancing SDF forces, as well as those fleeing from ISIS.
In just over twenty days, SDF has managed to push into Raqqa at a steady pace and provide support to civilians fleeing conflict areas. Advancing from all sides, SDF have pushed from the south, where they have reached destroyed bridges, which are currently undergoing repairs by Special Forces. Clashes are still ongoing, such as in the districts of Rawdah and al-Baryd. A noose tightens around ISIS, but the fight is not over, as ISIS still occupies large parts of Raqqa itself. How long it will take to liberate these areas is not certain, but what is known is that the fight continues.
Written by Anthony Avice Du Buisson